The US is planning to send Patriot air defence missiles to Ukraine, US media reports say. President Joe Biden is likely to announce the move this week, according to unnamed officials.
Ukraine has been requesting further air defence support for some time, as Russian attacks have continued to kill civilians and cause major blackouts.
Patriot is one of the most advanced US air defence systems but supplies to Ukraine are likely to be limited.
It is not known how many of the batteries will be sent to Ukraine.
Once the move is approved, the systems are likely to be sent over in the coming days, with Ukrainian soldiers trained to use them at a US Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany, the officials said.
The Patriot system would be a legitimate target for Russian strikes, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.
This significant decision recognises that the greatest immediate threat is currently from the air, not the ground. Russia has been regularly targeting Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with missiles and drones – leaving millions without power, electricity and running water in the middle of winter.
In recent months Ukraine has been supplied with advanced air defences from the West – including NASAMs and Iris-T systems. But it still needs more. It needs air defences not just to intercept missiles fired at power supply and distribution centres in and around its cities, and to prevent Russia from gaining air superiority near the frontline. Ukraine is struggling to do both.
Justin Bronk, a senior fellow at the defence think-tank Rusi, believes that the US decision to supply Patriot batteries is linked to Western concerns that Iran may supply Russia with longer range ballistic missiles.
The supply of Patriot batteries to Ukraine will likely be limited. The system is in high demand right across the world, it is expensive, and it requires significant training to operate.
All reasons why this decision has not been fast, and Ukraine’s initial pleas for Patriots were ignored. But the threat of Iran supplying Russia with long-range ballistic missiles has changed the equation.
The news came as explosions rocked the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, in the latest of a steady stream of attacks by Russia.
Moscow has repeatedly targeted Ukrainian energy infrastructure since October.
Ukraine has been asking the US for more air defence support for months.
US national security spokesman John Kirby said last week that Russia and Iran’s relationship had warmed to a fully fledged defence partnership.
Patriot has been described as the most advanced air defence system the US possesses. Each missile costs about $3m (£2.4m), the Washington Post reported in 2017.
The systems have been bought by more than a dozen countries since they came into use in the 1980s, and are in use by US allies in the Pacific and Europe, as well as Saudi Arabia.
The battery includes the missile launcher, a radar, command and control centre, and other support vehicles, and needs a large team to operate and maintain it.
Source : BBC